The Gopher men followed their upset win over #8 North Carolina with a 74-70 win over West Virginia, a Final Four team just 8 months ago, to win the championship of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. They are now 5-0, and surely have earned a spot in the Top 25 rankings, maybe even as high as the Top 10.
The women followed up a couple of solid performances against Pitt and Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a truly dreadful defensive effort in a 97-81 loss to a Dayton team that came to Williams Arena with an 0-2 record. So, for the 2nd straight week, the Gophers settled for 2nd place in their own tournament, and drop to 3-2 overall.
Gopher Men Do It Again
Against Carolina, the Gophers led most of the way, though the Tar Heels tied it up at 24-24, 27-27 and 41-41. All three times, Blake Hoffarber put the Gophers back out in front with a 3 pointer. Tonight, Minnesota and West Virginia were tied at 70 when Hoffarber hit a 3 with just 1:31 left to go. The Mountaineers never caught up.
Hoffarber scored 48 points to lead the Gophers in Puerto Rico, and made the biggest shots. Still, it was Trevor Mbakwe who walked away with the tournament MVP award. He was a model of consistency, scoring 46 points and gathering up 26 boards. Al Nolen had a nice tournament, too, scoring 36 points, including 17 against West Virginia on an unlikely 11-of-12 FT, with 11 assists and 5 steals.
Consistency was not otherwise the Gophers' strong suit. Ralph Sampson strted out big, with 22 pts, 8 boards and 7 blocks against Western Kentucky, but then contributed just 14 points and 11 boards in the next 2 games. For Rodney Williams, it was the same--17 points and 7 boards in round 1, then just 7 and 5 over the next 2 games. Colt Iverson went the other way, starting out with 4 points, 0 reb, and 4 fouls in just 8 minutes, but then getting 22 points and 19 boards the rest of the way.
Chip Armelin came up big against West Virginia, too, with 7 points, 4 boards and 2 assists in 14 minutes. He totalled 10 points for the 3 games, while Austin Hollins added 8 and Mo Walker 7.
What was most surprising was Tubby's rotations in the Thursday opening round. The 5 starters played an average of 34 minutes, while the 5 bench guys played just 6. Tubby went back to a more normal rotation in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, with the starting 5 averaging 29 and 26 minutes. In the final, Iverson played 28 minutes off the bench, the same as Sampson and Williams combined, as each was caught committing personal fouls early and often.
It is beyond obvious that this was Breakthrough Week for the previously unrated Gophers, who now look to stay unbeaten for awhile. North Dakota State (this Wednesday), Virginia, Cornell, St. Joe's, Eastern Kentucky, Akron and South Dakota State remain on the non-conference schedule, only St. Joe's away from the friendly confines, as they say.
The Big Ten schedule is not quite so forgiving, opening December 28 and 31 at Wisconsin (2-1, unrated) and Michigan State (2-0, #2). If that sounds like a daunting task, well, the Yahoo! User Rankings this morning have the Gophers at #1 and the Spartans at #7.
Just 2 days ago I predicted that the Gophers would go 11-7 in the Big Ten, 21-9 for the regular season, and 25-10 when all was said and done. I'm not going to change that but I initially thought that was a little bullish, now I'd say it's the middle of their potential range.
Gopher Women Do It Again, Too
Similarly, I had the Gopher women at 9-9, 18-13 and 20-14. After yesterday's letdown against Dayton, that remains bullish for the young Gophers. I did not see the game but the box score shows starters Brianna Mastey and Jackie Voigt playing 9 and 13 minutes, respectively, with no hint of foul trouble. Kristen Dockery and China Antoine played 16 and 17. So coach Pam Borton seems to have had a problem with some of the individual performances, and why not? The Gophers were out-rebounded 43-29 and allowed the Flyers to shoot 57 percent in running out to a 54-33 half-time lead.
If this team cannot really even compete with, much less defeat Wisconsin-Green Bay and Dayton on their home court, it's hard to see a way to 20 wins.
On the plus side, Kiara Buford has emerged as the go-to player on this team, with 18 points and 3 assists per game. China Antoine is the unquestioned leader, however, with 10 points, 7 assists and 3 steals. Leah Cotton has played well off the bench with 13 points and 3 assists. Brianna Mastey is vastly improved with 9 points and 5 boards. Jackie Voigt remains offensively challenged but is a solid defender and leads the way with 8 rebounds per game. Kristen Dockery is a Cinderella story, emerging after nothing by injuries for 4 years. She is at 6 points and 6 rebounds.
Still, the anticipated return of Katie Loberg will be a big boost. Her 8.5 points per game are sorely missed.
But regardless of the individual numbers, which in isolation aren't bad, this is a woefully inconsistent team whose defensive lapses will be exploited mercilessly by Big Ten opponents as they were yesterday by the Dayton Flyers, who had already lost to Penn State and Michigan State by a total of 17 points. The Flyers scored 62 points in East Lansing and 97 at the Barn. Ouch.